Tuesday, 17 July 2012

George III – A Much Maligned Monarch


L to R Dr Ayscough, Princes Edward and George
George William Frederick was born on 4th June 1738, the son of the Prince of Wales and Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha. His grandfather King George II had ascended to the throne on 11th June 1727, just under eleven years previously. The House of Hanover had a history of eldest sons failing to get on with their fathers and the relationship between the king and his heir was acrimonious.

George was the eldest child of the couple and was born two months prematurely. It was not believed that he would survive and he was christened immediately. The recently widowed king was not impressed. The child’s survival was credited to his wet-nurse, who was later given the post of laundress at Windsor Castle, by her charge.

Later King George was not in favour of the appointment of the tutor of one of his son’s supporters in the House of Commons as his grandson’s tutor. Ayscough was not an enervating teacher, but the young Prince George and his brother Edward’s progress  was satisfactory. By the age of eight George could read and write German and English. Prince Frederick was an interested father encouraging his sons to enjoy reading and to enjoy his interests in art, science, gardening and astronomy, music and amateur theatricals. George was eventually one of nine children.

George II took little interest in his eldest grandson, awarding him the garter only after being advised that not to do so would be used by the Opposition, who supported Frederick against his father, as neglect. The letter George wrote to his grandfather, thanking him for the honour, was not replied to. At around the same time a more suitable tutor was found for the young prince; George Lewis Scott was a barrister, mathematician and a Fellow of the Royal Society. It was alleged that Lewis had Jacobite sympathies and had been recommended by Lord Bolingbroke, who had intrigued with the supporters of the Old Pretender. Lord North was appointed governor to George and Edward.

In 1742 the family moved to Leicester House, in Leicester Square where Prince Frederick set up a court to rival his father’s. In 1751 the two elder boys were set up their own household in Savile House, next door to their parents. Despite mounting debts (a recurring motif in the relationships between Hanoverian kings and their heirs), in addition to a home at Kew, Frederick rented Cliveden, a Thames-side property in the country and purchased another, while renting a house near Epsom. The children spent most of their time in London, with trips to these rural properties.

In 1750 Lord Bute was made Fredericks’s Lord of the Bedchamber. Lord Bute was to be an important influence in George’s life. The even tenor of George’s life was overturned by the unexpected death of his father on 20th March 1751. King George visited the grieving family and Prince George remarked that he

‘should not be frightened any more with his Grandpa.’[i]

On 20th April 1752, a month after his father’s death, George was created Prince of Wales. It was decided that the young prince’s household should now be changed so that supporters of the king, rather than those of his deceased father, should guide George. Lord North was dismissed and replaced with Lord Harcourt, a man whose main interests appeared to be hunting and drinking, such that he appeared to need a governor himself. As Preceptor George was given a Dr Hayter, a zealous Whig, whose task was to root out any Jacobite tendencies implanted by Scott, retained as sub-Preceptor. For a period George was required to go live with his grandfather, where he

‘lacked the desire to please’[ii]

according to the king. Indeed one time George had his ears severely boxed by his grandfather, giving him a dislike of Hampton Court that lasted a lifetime.

Relations between the king and his daughter-in-law, who was still mourning the loss of her husband, were not assisted by George’s refusal to pay his son’s debts. He had retained the Duchy of Cornwall after Frederick’s death, as it was an honour granted to the king’s eldest son. Princess Augusta was aware that the king was therefore better off by the sum of £30,000 per annum[iii]

Augusta Princess of Wales
By 1752 George had a new Governor Lord Waldegrave, following political machinations and investigations into the political leanings of his teachers. In 1755 Princess Augusta appointed Lord Bute as tutor to George. By now Bute was Augusta’s closest political confidant. Opponents claimed that Bute was the princesses’ lover, an unlikely conclusion, particularly considering the friendship that developed between George and Bute. Bute became a surrogate father figure to the lonely Prince of Wales, who believed that he could place all his trust in Bute. Bute had no political abilities.

George was not academically inclined nor outstandingly intelligent. He was however kind-hearted and morally upright, but lonely, insecure and unhappy. His sole companion of his own age, his brother Edward, was his mother’s favourite child. Augusta showed her son little affection but criticised his educational shortcomings. George believed that his governor Waldegrave was spreading stories about his mother’s misconduct.

In 1756, when George reached the age of 18, the government proposed that George would move to live with Edward at St James’ Palace with Lord Waldegrave as his Groom of the Stole. George refused to consider the proposal, suggesting in his turn that he stay at Savile House with Lord Bute as Groom of the Stole[iv]. The politicians had to give way.

‘What! Has the King granted me both my requests? He has always been extremely good to me. If I have ever offended him I am extremely sorry for it. It was not my own act or my own doing....’[v]

In the same year the beginning of the Seven Years’ War exacerbated George’s relations with his grandfather. The religious young George was already offended that his grandfather was living openly with his German mistress. Bute and George supported the Duke of Newcastle’s ministry prosecuting the war.

In November 1759 the Prince of Wales took his seat in the House of Lords, but he longed to be involved in military exploits like his brother Edward. George requested a command in the war, which was refused by his grandfather. At the same time George had fallen in love with the beautiful Sarah Lennox, daughter of the Duke of Richmond. He was warned against the match by Lord Bute. George now resigned himself to marrying a German princess, having already turned down one proposal from his grandfather. But a marriage had not been arranged by the time of the king’s death.

King and Marriage

George III in his coronation robes
George II died on 25th October 1760, leaving an immature grandson to inherit the throne. At 22 George III was guided by the inexperienced Bute. William Pitt[vi], Secretary of State for the Southern Department and a consummate politician, was demanding that there be no change in the conduct of the war. If there was to be such a change (George had wanted the war prosecuted in such a manner as

‘to bring an honourable and lasting peace’[vii])

he, Pitt, would resign. Pitt was determined to direct the policies of the administration. Bute was given a seat in the Cabinet and in March the following year was made Secretary of State for the Northern Department.

The search for a wife for the king was now intensified and the choice of 17 year old Princess Sophie Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz was received by George without much enthusiasm. They were married on 8th September 1761 at the Chapel Royal. George seemed very happy with his new wife, despite her plain face and her predilection for snuff, which made him sneeze. George was, according to his brother William

‘Delighted with having entirely under his own training a young innocent girl of 17.....and determined that she shd be wholly devoted to him alone, and should have no other friends or society.’[viii]

Queen Charlotte
The queen was given a horror of politics by her husband’s insistence on the dangers of women becoming involved in them. Charlotte led a very restricted life, seeing few people other than courtiers and the ladies of her bedchamber and wardrobe.

George was crowned king on 22nd September 1761 along with his new wife.

‘Born and educated in this country I glory in the Name of Britain, and the peculiar happiness of my life, will ever consist in promoting the Welfare of a people whose Loyalty and warm affection to me, I consider as the greatest & most permanent Security of my Throne.’[ix]

George inserted these lines into his coronation speech in his own hand, intending to emphasise his Englishness, rather than his family links to far away Hanover. His Grandfather and Great-Grandfather had both been criticised for the preferential treatment given to the little kingdom of Hanover.


George III – A Personal History – Christopher Hibbert, Viking 1998

King George II and Queen Caroline – John van der Kiste, Sutton Publishing 1997

The Reign of George III – J Steven Watson – Oxford University Press 1988

George III – Christopher Wright, British Library 2004


[i] George III - Hibbert
[ii] King George II and Queen Caroline – van der Kiste
[iii] Worth £3,680,000.00 in 2010 using the retail price index or £50,400,000.00 using average earnings www.measuringworth.com
[iv] Senior courtier
[v] George III - Hibbert
[vi] Later Earl of Chatham
[vii] George III - Hibbert
[viii] Ibid
[ix] George III - Wright

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